Monday, October 15, 2007

Thinking about language

I'm currently putting together material for a workshop on Poetry and Prayer. I've had my wrist cyber-slapped for insisting on the close relationship between the two; I'm passionate in my belief that banal and over-specific language has no place in our liturgies and refuse to accept that the language of the supermarket is suitable for every situation.

At the moment I'm wondering just how much non-specialists (and I don't necessarily mean liturgists) are aware of language as a tool. Are they like me with this laptop - able to use it fairly effectively to do what they want it to, without any glaring errors, but unable to tell you how or why it works, even if they wanted to? For I'm aware that my "class" will be an amazingly bright and thoughtful one, in no need of background info on the subject matter of the poetry - but what about the workings of language? imagery? rhythm? Do people who have not spent their lives teaching others how to communicate effectively, or how to analyse the writings of others, think about the effect of a word, or a line break, or the connotations of an expression? I don't know.

So, dear readers, you have two days in which to enlighten me - and to ensure that my workshop isn't going to teach my grandmother to do something she can do standing on her head!


  1. Anonymous6:40 PM

    Dear Abby

    I'm back.

    I have this problem: when walking through a wood, I tend to see only the trees. So, while I cannot help you with your overall request for help, could I suggest that you have indulged in an unsettling crasis (if not an actual mixture) of metaphors? I mean, your granny may well have found things easy to do standing on her head (however undignified that Father-William-like posture may have been in someone so venerable); but I doubt that she would have assumed that posture to suck eggs. For a start, there would be the danger of the contents dribbling into her eyes. One or the other image would suffice.

    I wish I could be of more help, but it's not in my nature.

  2. And now I realise how much I have missed you! But why, pray, Abby? Am I being dense?

    And I enjoyed that metaphor mix - aimed at people just like you, for your delectation. But soft ... are there any people just like you?

  3. Anonymous7:05 PM

    An Agony Aunt of yore in the USA.

    Jove and my stars be praised - I hope not. And now I'm off to uncross my garters.

  4. Remember to hang up the yellow stockings by the toe, then!

  5. Anonymous11:36 PM

    To join this foray into the confusion that is the English language would demonstrate my inadequacies as a guide in such matters! I am currently trying to "squeeze" my little behind (!) into this workshop and would love to be taught by one as passionate as yourself about poetry and prayer x

  6. Anonymous11:48 PM

    I think I'll leave room for the sensible people. Any more, and you'll have had surfeit of it. No more cakes and ale tonight.

  7. Sorry I can't get to this. Is there any chance of your making the materials available afterwards, or even running the workshop again on some other occasion?

    One other question: will the examples of prayers include hymns?

    I don't think I can be much help on the matter of what background knowledge you can assume. I was slightly surprised the other day when a fairly clueful member of the choir told me she had no idea what "CM" at the top of a hymn tune meant.

  8. Robin, I've already been asked if I'd run one on Cumbrae, perhaps as part of a retreat/study session. I'm conceited enough to feel that the materials on their own aren't much good!

    I'm not really looking at hymns, because they're different again, with additional requirements which I became very aware of when I wrote a hymn for Cumbrae.

  9. --Do people who have not spent
    --their lives teaching others how
    --to communicate effectively, ....
    --think about the effect of .....?

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'think'. Anyone who wants to effectively communicate must take cognisance of such effects, but whether this is instinctive (ingrained from previous tutoring) or consciously considered is a different matter. Personally, such little skill as I have results from considerable effort expended by others in driving as set of 'rules' into my skull.

  10. Anonymous12:21 AM

    Did An Honest Man put in "to effectively communicate" as bait for the pedantic or those taught a silly rule when they were impressionable? Let us be guided by our ear: sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong. I couldn't possibly comment.

  11. I suffered in silence. Such moments are second only to the misuse of personal pronouns in my scale of sensitivity....

  12. Anonymous2:26 PM

    You and me both, between you and I.

  13. Mrs H.M. is horrified!

  14. It was deliberate - not to antagonise, but to emphasis. I was taught to consider that acceptable on very limited occasions. {And you can't teach old dogs new tricks - deliberately to add fuel to the fire!}

  15. Anonymous11:47 PM

    Dear AHM (or, since the penny has now dropped, BA)

    The fact that you are blogging disproves your last statement. And your bark is still worse than your bite!

  16. Possibly my teeth are wearing down!

  17. I shall now abandon this delightful conversation till Monday, and go and teach the class which occasioned the post in the first place.

    Please feel free to enjoy yourselves till my return ....

  18. Anonymous11:49 PM

    Right. All day I have been seeing, in the blatts & on the BBC website, that one result of their being 2 billion short (Awwww!) is that they will produce "10% less original programmes". I invite readers to parse that phrase.

    Please comment on (a) the possible meanings of it; (b) whether or not the reason for the demise of "fewer" is that it has more than one syllable; and (c) whether or not a strategically placed hyphen would have added to the gaiety of nation-shall-speak-peace-unto-nationdom.

    Write on only one side of the paper.